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Federal judge declines to delay execution over drug controversy

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday declined [order, PDF] to delay the execution of convicted killer Ricky Gray, which is scheduled to take place January 18. Gray's attorneys argued in December that the drugs to be used during the execution were untested and potentially torturous. Judge Henry Hudson concluded that "any discomfort experienced by Gray in the execution process is unlikely to cause serious pain or suffering." He also concluded that the possibility of pain was outweighed by the harm done if the execution was delayed. Gray's attorney, Lisa Fried, stated [WP report] that "it is unconstitutional ... to carry out an execution that risk chemically torturing a prisoner to death." No other state has used the mixture of drugs to be used at Gray's execution. His attorneys plan to appeal.

Capital punishment [JURIST op-ed] remains a controversial issue in the US and worldwide. Last Wednesday the Florida Supreme Court [official website] issued a one-paragraph order [JURIST report] informing judges and prosecutors that the state's death penalty procedure is unconstitutional, marking the second such order in three months. In October the US Supreme Court vacated [JURIST report] the death sentence of an Oklahoma man convicted of killing his girlfriend and her two children in a case where the trial judge permitted family members to recommend the sentence to the jury. In May a Miami judge ruled [JURIST report] that Florida's revamped death penalty law is unconstitutional because it does not require a unanimous agreement among jurors to approve executions. In April Virginia's General Assembly voted [JURIST report] to keep secret the identities of suppliers of lethal injection drugs. In 2002 the Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia [opinion] that the Eighth Amendment's proscription on cruel and unusual punishment makes the execution of individuals with intellectual disability unconstitutional, which was considered in the Moore v. Texas case [JURIST report]. In November, Oklahoma became the first state [JURIST report] to have the death penalty explicitly added to their state constitution as legal. According to a report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), only 5 out of 31 states that have the death penalty held [JURIST report] executions in 2016.

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